By JALYNN VINSON, Ranger Reporter:
Difficult tests and challenging assignments are not the most important problems some Amarillo College students face. Jordan Herrera, director of social services, said homelessness is a significant issue for many AC students. “We work with at least 10-20 a semester who have disclosed to us that they are homeless and those are only the ones we know about,” Herrera said.
Recently, AC Student Government President Logan Nelson recognized the problem and decided to use an SGA project to change attitudes toward the homeless community on Amarillo’s streets.
“I would say, don’t assume these people in the homeless community are choosing to be homeless. Some aren’t. Some just need one person to believe in them and help them. Just have an open heart,” Nelson said.
To draw attention to the issue, Nelson started a scarf project on AC’s Washington Street Campus. During the week of Feb. 20-24, students and staff donated scarves by tying them around the trees in the Oeschger Family Mall area. The SGA also passed out booklets providing facts about the homeless and resources available for students facing this problem.
“The average age of a homeless person in Amarillo is 11. That means homelessness doesn’t have just one image, it has multiple. It is in our grade schools and right here on AC campuses,” Nelson said.
AC graduate Buck Mayden has a firsthand understanding of the issue, since he has been homeless himself. While attending AC and West Texas A&M, Mayden was a resident at Faith City Mission, after overcoming a 13-year meth addiction through Faith City’s Hope for Men program. Mayden found a new outlook on what it really meant to be homeless and what it is like to help others cope.
“These people have been deemed by society as unacceptable, or flawed in some way. But, in my experience, these people are the most generous, wise and compassionate people that I have ever met. You’ll never gain more wisdom on how to be kind to your fellow man than you will from a homeless person,” said Mayden, who now serves as donor relations coordinator for Faith City Ministries.
“I would encourage anybody to come up to Faith City and go on a tour, see what all goes on here, because it’s not just feeding the homeless. It’s about offering stability and shelter to those in our community that may not have that peace of mind,” Mayden said.
AC President Russell Lowery-Hart also has had a firsthand look at the plight of the homeless.
This Feb. 17-19, Lowery-Hart participated in a “poverty simulation” weekend, designed by Mission Waco to give participants a better understanding of the poor and the homeless by forcing them to experience firsthand what it feels like to be deprived of possessions and power.
Lowery-Hart and his fellow participants gave up their money, credit cards, phones and even their nice clothes and spent the weekend living as though homeless on the streets of Waco.
“The experience overwhelmed me and I have difficulty explaining the profound impact the experience had on me,” Lowery-Hart said. “You are dependent on others for everything from the time of day, to directions, to information, to food and shelter. You have no independence or freedom,” said Lowery-Hart, “I was shocked at how quickly and easily I felt shame for my situation. Even when I knew it was for only 48 hours, the shame and judgment from it were so real and painful.”
Herrera said she often struggles to find solutions for homeless students. “The most significant problem for our students that face this issue is the lack of immediate resources available to them in Amarillo. We do offer information on shelters; however, that’s not always the resource they want to resort to. We connect them to the Career Center if they aren’t working so that they can begin earning an income to help them afford an apartment or rental property. We always ask if they have a friend or family member that they can stay with temporarily if the shelters are not an option for them.”
Lowery-Hart said the poverty-simulation experience has left him with an urgent desire to help homeless students.
“When students are forced to worry about food and shelter, class projects and deadlines seem like a luxury. I have a newfound understanding of and passion for helping our most underserved students – personally and as a college,” Lowery-Hart said.